van Zelst C, van Nierop M, van Dam DS, Bartels-Velthuis AA, Delespaul P,
PLoS ONE 2015;10(2):e0117386
INTRODUCTION: Stereotype awareness–or an individual’s perception of the degree to which negative beliefs or stereotypes are held by the public–is an important factor mediating public stigma, self-stigma and their negative consequences. Research is required to assess how individuals become more sensitive to perceive stereotypes, pointing the way to therapeutic options to reduce its negative effects and increase stigma resilience. Because perception and interpretation can be guided by belief systems, and childhood trauma (CT) is reported to impact such beliefs, CT is explored in relation to stereotype awareness (SA) in persons with psychosis, their siblings and controls.
METHOD: Data from the GROUP project (Genetic Risk and Outcome of Psychosis) were analyzed. SA was measured by devaluation scales which assess a respondent’s perception of the degree to which stereotypes about people with mental illness and about their families are held by the public. CT was measured using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (short form).
RESULTS: In patients, symptoms of disorganization and emotional distress were associated with SA about people with mental illness. In siblings, schizotypal features were associated with both types of SA (more schizotypy = more SA). In both patients and siblings, CT was associated with both types of SA (more CT = more SA), independent of symptoms (patients) or schizotypy (siblings).
CONCLUSION: CT in people with psychosis and their siblings may sensitize to SA. Thus, CT may not only impact on risk for illness onset, it may also increase SA associated with mental illness, potentially interfering with the recovery process. CT-induced SA may indicate a heightened sensitivity to threat, which may also impact psychopathology.